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Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah was never released in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia, because it violates Islamic law by depicting a prophet.
But shots from the biblical epic are now in front of a new audience.
“I don’t think anyone’s gonna use [Noah] to recruit people to become true believers — that’s definitely not the message of the film. … But I just found out ISIS in their newsletter is using imagery from my movie to make a point — which is hilarious because we were banned from so many Muslim countries!” said the director on Tuesday night while being honored as New York City’s New Museum’s 2014 Stuart Regen Visionary. “If they actually knew the source of the material!”
He then expanded on the literalism arguments that surrounded the film’s release. “There is more power in accepting these old books as mythology, … instead of fighting over, did it really happen?” he told novelist Lynne Tillman in a comprehensive conversation. “We were trying to recapture these stories away from true believers and say they are our stories, just how you look at Ulysses and The Odyssey; they belong to the world. I tried as hard as possible to stay away from literalism. … Whether it’s ISIS or the heartland here, … let’s leave that behind and look at the lessons here, but we don’t have to live exactly by the word,” he added, evoking applause from the audience.
Aronofsky also spoke somewhat candidly about the quest for immortality — which was central to his 2006 film The Fountain — a theme that’s been on his mind lately, noting Time‘s September 2013 cover story on Google’s efforts last year. “What’s most interesting is how little the West does to come to terms with death as part of life. We’re trained as kids to collect fall leaves and find the beauty in dead leaves, but we’re never taught to find the beauty in old people, in fact, they’re removed from society, imprisoned and often abused.”
He revealed, “I’ve been spending a lot of time in nursing homes for other ideas. … We won’t talk about that. … I just got over the hangover of Noah — you release those films and you go into a quiet phase where you want nothing to do with nothing, whatever that means. But I’m finally getting creative again, and stuff’s coming up. … I actually know what it is but I’m not talking about it, and I won’t be talking about it for a while.” (The director is set to executive produce Margaret Atwood‘s MaddAddam trilogy for HBO.)
Aronofsky later reflected on his New York upbringing. “Growing up in Brooklyn back when Brooklyn was Brooklyn and not some creature it’s become now — I don’t know what it is now — there were two types of Brooklyn: people who were gonna stay in Brooklyn their whole lives, or people who were gonna get to the big city,” he said, noting he stumbled on to works by Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa that informed his “taste for what people didn’t like; I always like things from the underground.” He said his empathy for the environment roots back to his childhood spent near Coney Island. “The irony of a dead amusement park, coupled with the David Lynch-ian beauty of the landscape, I’ve always liked it. It was just where my taste went.”
When it was noted that tragedy is a common thread in his films, he responded, “It’s funny, tragedy used to be an accepted form of entertainment, but we don’t really do tragedy in Hollywood very well. … And if we do, it gets spoiled by a cherry on top or something sweet at the end. … I think by revealing the darkness, you’re shining a huge light on everything. By following these dark characters, you’re able to reflect on the choices you make.”
The writer-director also explained that the opening quote of his 1998 feature Pi wasn’t in the original script, but a spontaneous strategy brainstormed with actor Sean Gullette. “His father told him not to stare into the sun, which is so obviously part of our lives yet it’s the one thing we can’t immediately look at. … There’s something so poetic about that idea. Aronofsky explained that he sees filmmaking as a sculptural practice, and used high-contrast film for Pi to weave his 20-something–inspired ideas about subjectivity in film into one cohesive project.
Of Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky recalled first meeting author Hubert Selby Jr.: “He’s so violent and so upsetting [in his writing], … I was just expecting a huge guy with an ax, and he was so skinny, he was a beanpole wearing a pair of whitey tighties!” He said he made the 2000 film, starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Connelly, solely to tell the story of Burstyn’s character, “because there’s no difference between the dream of weight loss and being famous and being loved, and getting high.” It’s a storyline that “a big-time movie director” told him to cut from the film, and “you can’t always listen to that stuff,” Aronofsky laughed.
He noted that his aim in 2010’s Black Swan was not only to create a coming-of-age story for females, but also “a retelling of Swan Lake as a narrative film. … When I went through the film, I connected parts of the ballet for each scene to incorporate choreography and music” from the stage show, even if twisted on its head in some way.
And while discussing 2008’s The Wrestler, the parallel between the sport and stripping was highlighted off-screen as well. “Mickey [Rourke] and Marisa [Tomei] would fight over who gets to wear the cut-off gloves, the rocker T-shirts and the hairstyles!” he recalled.
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